Softball's origins aren't rooted in baseball, as many assume, but in the sport of football.
Softball, which according to the Amateur Softball Association (ASA), is the most played team sport in the United States has an interesting history. The sport started on Thanksgiving Day 1887 and was invented by a Chicago Board of Trade reporter named George Hancock.
The first game on that 1887 Thanksgiving was played at Chicago's Farragut Boat Club gym against a group of Harvard and Yale alumni who needed a way to occupy time as they awaited the final score of the Harvard-Yale football game. The initial game used a bat that was made from a broken broom handle and a ball that was made of a boxing glove tied up in twine. Hancock dubbed the game "indoor baseball", even though the game went by indoor baseball, kitten ball, and other various names too.
Some additional facts about softball's origins:
- The first game commenced when a Yale alum threw a boxing glove at a Harvard alum. The reactive Harvard alum swatted the glove away with a stick.
- The final score of the game was 41-40 and it's debated on who actually won. Notably, however, Yale won the football game that day 17-8.
- Hancock receives credit for creating softball, since he established and wrote the rules the week after the first game. Additionally, Hancock developed a 17" ball and an undersized bat later.
- Hancock initially envisioned the game as a way for baseball players to maintain their skills during the offseason in the confines of an indoor facility.
- In 1888, softball games were moved to outdoor fields.
- In 1926, the game was officially renamed "softball."
- In 1933, interest in the new game took off after a tournament was played at Chicago's A Century Of Progress world's fair.
- In 1933, the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) was founded in Oklahoma City, becoming the first established softball governing body.
- In 1953, Slow Pitch softball was officially recognized.
- In 1996, women's fastpitch softball became an Olympic sport.
Today, softball has seven (7) governing bodies, two sports (Slow Pitch and Fastpitch), and more than 40 million participants per year.
So, next time you're watching a football game on Thanksgiving, keep your eyes out for the birth of a new game. Your name could be itched in history with George Hancock.
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